40 of the best – part 1 of 4
40: Fiat Nox: Demanifestation (Hymns of Destruction and Nothingness)
Crawling Chaos Records
Fits comfortably inside the modern penchant of modern extreme metal for oppressive aesthetics, favouring dissonance and density as ends in themselves. At the borders of death, black, and doom metal where listeners are permitted to luxuriate in an overtly apocalyptic vibespace. But Fiat Nox breathe new life into these over-used techniques by working them into lengthy and ambitious compositions that reward repeated listens, unfolding their true intent with patience and grace.
39: Forlesen: Black Terrain
I, Voidhanger Records
Best in class when it comes to soundscaping, bringing together ambient and post rock with recognisably metallic textural scenery. Occasionally coalescing into homogenous globules of doom metal, but chiefly a craft of sound manipulation, contrasting tones, tension via repetition, and sequences building information as an exercise in gradualism. ‘Black Terrain’ pulls the best elements from metal and adjacent subgenres renowned for their superficially pleasing textures and resituates them as structural and theatrical signifiers that truly elevates their artistic potential. A masterstroke of patient incrementalism.
38: Galicia: Precipice
Hailing from California, this outfit whip up a strangely hypnotic interplay between the informal violence of war metal and the melancholic melodic aspirations of Nordic black metal, employing elements of death and blackened thrash as mediators supervising this tense exchange of ideas. It’s as if the music is attempting to overcome its own drive to chaos by wresting more formal structures from the very soil itself. A densely packed slab of sonic information that cloaks its complexities behind the veneer of disorder, only revealing its internal logics via intimate and persistent study.
37: Amon Acid: Cosmogony
Helter Skelter Productions/Regain Records
Yorkshire’s own. A blend of swirling Hawkwind-esque space rock, weighty occultist stoner doom riffing, and ponderously psychedelic melodic licks make for a potent and monolithic concoction on Amon Acid’s latest LP, all whipped into an imposing fervour of understated malevolence. Gravitas abounds in the form of direct stoner riffs, a foundation allowing Amon Acid to let their less earthbound creative urges soar into the cosmos.
36: Ayyur: Hidden Rooms Sessions I
It may sound awfully cliché, but ‘Hidden Rooms Sessions I’ is one of those releases that makes one stop and take stock. Not of one’s life necessarily, or meaning thereof, but more as a commentary on the music it mirrors. All of the fanfare, the bombast, the clutter of information that haunts extreme metal, all dissolves away on this EP, forcing us to reconsider its purpose, its goal, and ultimately its appeal. Ayyur strip back this ancillary furniture, leaving us with only the sparsest of musical landscapes to inhabit, existing in perpetual confrontation with the lurking chasm behind it all, a patient force awaiting its final and inevitable triumph over the superfluous activity of extreme metal as a collective endeavour.
35: Bran: Odcházení
Although Bran trade in a rather typical variety of energetic, fast paced, melodic black metal, their take on this genre is so mechanistically precise as to be almost categorically distinct from comparable releases from recent years. The key to their success is simply their ability to unfold these compositions as one would a narrative arc, with each moment building on and complementing the last. The pieces flow with an intuitive sense of forward motion. Beyond musical flourishes for the sake of mere content, Bran take each axiomatic technique of musical development and make it move and flow like a river, via efficacious emphasis, and for just the right duration to achieve the maximum possible impact.
34: Out of the Mouth of Graves: Harbinger Unceremonious
Many metal subgenres have abandoned the pursuit of traditional music and started to bleed into noise. But here we witness life on the border, where familiar musical features are still populous enough to aid our perception, but we can nevertheless feel the walls slowly collapsing around us, sinking into the murk below. And this uncanny exercise in partial decay via sound mutations is undeniably more compelling and noteworthy than many purer metallic interpretations of noise genres.
33: Tyrannus: Unslayable
Essentially one elongated piece of high concept, Lovecraftian inspired extreme metal. Riffs bounce seamlessly from technical death metal to oppressively fluid black metal with ease. As the album progresses we move from dark and moody tones through to the (relatively) bright realm of euphoric and triumphalist black metal supplemented by staccato punches of death metal. But context is not a myth, and despite the rich tapestry of riff styles and neat pockets of melodic experimentation, Tyrannus are an artist with an ear for atmosphere, soaking their work in an overpoweringly drab aesthetic guaranteed to grey any sky.
32: Kexelür: Llave a las profundidades...
‘Llave a las profundidades...’ is something of a Trojan Horse. Introducing itself as yet another demo of lo-fi, raw black metal, we slowly peel back the layers to find a multi-faceted demonstration of obscure music’s enduring capacity for depth and nuance. It is at once a survey of musical styles from a range of different cultures and periods. An exercise in strictly linear composition within a metallic setting, eschewing riff tessellation in favour of sequential structures. It is also a demonstration of the power of juxtaposition, as competing moods, themes, and compositional philosophies are compressed together and wedged in tandem. Effortlessly weird and profoundly eerie.
31: Riven: Cretaceous
Listening back to early Skepticism, Thergothon, or Switzerland’s Mordor, one forgets just how bizarre these early iterations of funeral doom were when compared to the strained emotive contrivances of its modern day operatics. ‘Cretaceous’ is a refreshing dose of this 90s Weird, one that digs beneath the surface of what we want to remember about that decade’s crowd pleasing hits, and actually reveals the truly bizarre sonic pockets that were eked out at the time but went largely unexplored for the sake of bigger budget theatrical offerings or emotionally manipulative metal-as-sentiment vehicles. An achingly slow unfolding of tangential sonic pockets, an unabashed indulgence in a cheap aesthetic that revels in its own left-of-centre delivery, and a willingness to forego contrived emotive finales for the sake of carving out its own inherent artistic identities.